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Entitled, Endowed, Enabled

Entitled, Endowed, Enabled    —by Jinny Batterson

At this year’s Labor Day, I’m likely to be engaged in intense mental labor with friends and former colleagues, trying to make some sense of the somewhat shaky state of civil society in the United States of America in 2018. As the holiday approaches, my sense is that our uneasiness arises partly from confusion about being entitled, endowed, or enabled. Below are some as-yet-unfinished thoughts about how the three might be interrelated:  

A decade or so ago, a leader at an educational institution I value complained that students there had “a sense of entitlement.”  I wasn’t sure what he meant, and I wasn’t in a position to either validate or refuse his claim. Just now I looked up the definition of the phrase, and this is what a search engine produced:

“If someone has a sense of entitlement, that means the person believes he deserves certain privileges — and he’s arrogant about it. The term “culture of entitlement” suggests that many people now have highly unreasonable expectations about what they are entitled to.”  (from www.vocabulary.com)  

         I suppose the term “entitlement” derives from the honorific and/or hereditary titles that certain members of European nobility were given. Over time, such entitlement does not need to have anything to do with the person’s character or accomplishments. It cannot be revoked. 

The most famous phrase about “endowed” comes from one of our founding documents, the U.S. Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  

A more recent application of “endowment” is the endowment effect (also known as divestiture aversion), the hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. Someone who has been “endowed” with say, a house, or a job, may feel that this endowment is permanent and react strongly when there is a perceived threat to his/her ownership. Institutions can also be “endowed” materially—we periodically hear figures about the size of Harvard’s endowment, not  often paying attention to the variability of such funds over time. In a different sense, we may talk of Dolly Parton’s “endowment,” likewise a not-entirely-permanent trait.  

What appeals to me more than either of the previous terms is “enabled.” To me, this term infers more active engagement by the person who’s enabled.  Some stories of enablement based on events at Special Olympics competitions and other sporting events give examples of teamwork, in which someone who may fall behind in the traditional sense is enabled by teammates to finish his/her race, enabling all to succeed together. The term is also used for the process of retraining someone who has lost previously available skills due to illness, accident, or other impediment.  

Reverting to endowment, though, I quote from the lead article of the constitution of my adoptive state of North Carolina. Borrowing from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the framers of this post-Civil-War constitution added a fourth endowment: the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.  

  May we all find ways to better balance entitlement, endowment, enablement as we move forward.